Tag: StarCraft (page 1 of 2)

The Kerrigan Question

The Queen Bitch of the Universe, Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

“Girls don’t belong in games/movies!” This is the cry of “men’s rights activists” who point to things like Rogue One and female gamers & game journalists (Susan Arendt, IRL Jasmine, etc).

“What about Sarah Kerrigan?”

I suspect I’d mostly get blank stares. Maybe a bit of drool.

Here’s the background: Sarah Kerrigan is a major character in StarCraft and its sequel. StarCraft is a massively popular real-time strategy game that is played professionally as a multi-player contest & sport. Its single-player campaigns, while maybe not having the best writing, is still full of affecting moments — the rise of Arcturus Mengsk, the sacrifice of Tassadar, etc — but I would argue that the growth and arc of Kerrigan’s story is the beating heart of the narrative, though I admittedly haven’t played the last chapter, Legacy of the Void, yet. It’s a bit beyond my means at present.

I’m going to run down Kerrigan’s story for those of you who don’t know, and proceed to my point after.

[spoiler]
StarCraft depicts a large-scale conflict between three races: the Terrans (that’s us), the psionic and aloof Protoss, and the swarming, ever-evolving Zerg. Sarah Kerrigan is a Terran operative, a “Ghost” (read: psychic sniper assassin) who joins you early in the Terran campaign alongside rough’n’tumble backwater space cowboy Jim Raynor. They don’t get along at first — Jimmy’s initial thoughts are about how hot Kerrigan is, and she immediately reacts with revulsion and rightly scolds Raynor for a lack of professionalism. But, through the course of fighting for survival as the Protoss and Zerg clash with the Terrans in the middle, they grow to admire, respect, and appreciate one another.

Their partnership, both professional and romantic, was short-lived. In a callous act of sacrificing his resources for convenience and advancement, master manipulator and all-around bastard Arcturus Mengsk left Kerrigan to die as her position was overrun by the Zerg forces Mengsk himself had attracted to a Terran world to better secure his political position. Disgusted, Raynor left Mengsk’s service, and looked for Kerrigan, only for her to emerge some time later as a new weapon in the Zerg’s arsenal, the fearsome and deadly ‘Queen of Blades’.

Empowered by Zerg evolutionary strains and determined to unlock her own full potential, Kerrigan proceeded to align both her former Terran comrades and several Protoss factions against the Zerg Overmind who’d had a hand (or, rather, tentacle) in creating her. Her plan succeeded, and she thanked her erstwhile allies by betraying them. Some of these allies were Protoss warriors Jim had come to trust as friends; when they were killed, he swore he’d avenge their deaths, and be the one to kill Sarah. Laughing off the threat, Kerrigan wiped the floor with what was left of the Terran forces and retreated to her own corner of the sector.

After the so-called Brood War that’d seen Kerrigan triumphant, she began to hear whispers of impending doom. To arm herself and her Swarm to face it, she invaded Terran space to find more powerful weapons. Raynor set off to oppose the Zerg invasion, seemingly still driven by his vendetta and supported by an old friend from his previous life. Things got complicated when a Protoss warrior, one of the few Raynor knew from the Brood War who hadn’t been killed, told him that Kerrigan needed to live to fight what was coming. The Terrans used the very weapon Kerrigan had sought to claim to rob her of her Zerg enhancements and leave her vulnerable. Conflicted, Raynor decided to save Kerrigan’s life at this moment, choosing to give her a chance for redemption rather than letting his friend shoot her.

Kerrigan was held for experimentation, with Raynor keeping an eye on her, and her memories as both Mengsk’s assassin and the Queen of Blades haunted her and made her question her morals and sanity. While previously Kerrigan’s ambitions had been aimed towards conquest and victory for her Swarm, her restored humanity narrowed her focus to revenge on Mengsk. The facility were she was being held was attacked by Mengsk’s forces, and in their escape, Kerrigan and Raynor were separated. While Kerrigan was able to escape, Raynor was reported to be killed, much to Mengsk’s delight. Consumed by her need for revenge, Kerrigan turns to the Zerg, returning to the Swarm to regain her former power.

Kerrigan returns to the homeworld of the Zerg and seeks her own path to evolve along instead of having it imposed upon her. In doing so, she comes to understand the Zerg on a far more fundamental level, and in doing so, not only guides it to great success, but forges it into a far more powerful force than it was before. With a renewed Swarm and her powers and memory finally under her control, Kerrigan tears across the sector towards Mengsk. Along the way, she finds Raynor alive, but her rebirth as the new Queen of Blades puts an incredible chasm between them; Jim can’t let go of everything she did as the Queen of Blades, and as much as she wants to repair that breach, since she was not the creature she was before, Jim can’t bring himself to meet her halfway. He can’t kill her, either, but joins her to kill Mengsk.

Having joined forces, Mengsk’s defenses folded under the assault of Raynor and Kerrigan. They work together to bring down the tyrant, Kerrigan saying Mengsk had “made [them] all into monsters” before blowing him up Scanners-style. With their nemesis dead, Kerrigan leaves to turn her attention back to the doom that had brought her back in the first place, leaving a conflicted and emotional Raynor in her wake, looking up at where the woman he loved (and perhaps still does) disappears.

This isn’t the end of the story, but it’s all I know, since I’m avoiding spoilers for Legacy of the Void.
[/spoiler]

The essence of Kerrigan’s story, to me, is that after getting betrayed and turned into something awful, she took control of her own destiny. She seized control of a massive, powerful alien force, just because she could. When she caught wind of something bigger coming to destroy everything, she set out to stand up to it, no matter what it cost. And after everything that happened to her, she decided to recreate her power on her own terms in order to either rescue a dude important to her or avenge herself on the bastard who’d betrayed her in the first place. To me, that speaks of self-actualization, independence, and empowerment.

I can see some counterpoints to this perspective, but the fact remains that she is a major character who becomes a protagonist in a major sci-fi gaming franchise, and yet, insecure man-kids haven’t brought her up as an example of something that doesn’t belong in their games. So is it because she’s not as prominent as the leads in Rogue One or The Force Awakens, or is it because they felt some sort of satisfaction in what happened to her when she was disempowered? I’m not sure; it’s a headspace I have a lot of trouble getting into.

I’m just going to toss this out for potential discussion. What do you think of Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, as a character? Is she a positive or negative influence on female empowerment in science fiction? And does Legacy of the Void go on sale regularly, so I can finish the story and also get some awesome, shiny Protoss action? Let me know!

Mondays are for making & talking about art.

The Call of the Nexus

When I got notice that I’d finally been chosen for the beta of Heroes of the Storm, I was pretty excited. As much as they ply their customers for ever-increasing amounts of cash, I am a fan of Blizzard Entertainment and their games. Sure, occasionally I will balk at their asking prices for things like cosmetic items that serve no purpose other than looking cool, but they have proven that their work is always of high quality in terms of presentation and imagination, and they do listen to their players. It takes a while, sometimes, but they do listen. Look at the whole Diablo III debacle.

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Anyway, Heroes of the Storm. It’s the sort of game that is actually born of one of Blizzard’s earlier products, Warcraft III. A mod for Blizzard’s landmark real-time strategy game allowed players control of a single heroic character, pitted in team battles against one another. This formula is the basis for games like League of Legends, an experience with which I am relatively well acquainted. I haven’t played it in a long time because it became increasingly apparent to me that the arithmetic required to optimize a character is more important than which character is the most fun, especially when a good portion of the player base would rather berate a teammate for falling behind on the kill/death ratio than looking for ways to gain an advantage over the opponents. In spite of funny or cute alternate skins, it feels like League and its ilk are missing a crucial component in keeping “casuals” like me coming back for more.

Heroes of the Storm has it. Heroes of the Storm is fun.

For starters, Heroes does not restrict its “hero brawls” to a single map with the same lanes and same jungle every time. There are, at time of writing, seven distinct maps, each with unique geography, baked-in challenges, and a personality that praises, cajoles, or gently mocks you for your performance. This is honestly one of my favorite features of the game: Blackheart’s Bay makes me grin because the undead pirate captain is so jolly, while Sky Temple makes me grin because the spirit controlling the temples is so irritated that we’re on his lawn.

Then, there are the heroes themselves. Drawn from the various franchises of Blizzard’s games, they have categories veterans of similar games will find familiar: tanks to initiate combat, assassins to deal damage, supports for healing, and specialists to debuff, confuse, or frustrate the enemy. The models for the heroes are well detailed, the voice acting is peerless, and they interact with one another in the middle of gameplay. I find it delightful that when opponents within a franchise end up on the same team, and they take the time to verbally jab at one another before the battle begins. It puts me in the mood for fun. It primes my mind for a good time. It makes me want to play.

The final thing that I believe makes Heroes of the Storm a better experience for those players more interested in a fun, pressure-free online brawl is the emphasis on teamwork. Sure, you can track your takedowns in comparison to your deaths if you really want to, but the maps are designed in such a way that you have to work with your team to succeed, rather than focusing on your own efficiency and accuracy. While one player gets to possess a mighty dragon knight on one map, it takes the team to guard the shrines that bring said knight to life, especially if the other team is hot to trot for that draconic action. The rewards for this are a unique selling point: breathe fire on your enemy’s forts. Curse their minions and defenses. Summon super-minions to supplement your assaults. You win or lose as a team. That, to me, is a big difference from the competition.

This isn’t to say that Heroes of the Storm isn’t without flaws. While free to play, with a rotation of free heroes and gold that can only be earned by playing, the dollar price for things like skins and mounts can be a bit steep. This is somewhat par for the course with Blizzard, and is mitigated by frequent sales, specials, bundles, and bonus weekends. Since the game is free to try, most people will know pretty quickly if the experience is worth the investment of time; and, I think in most cases, those who enjoy it will be willing to pony up a bit of cash for a favorite hero. It’s kind of like getting guacamole on your burrito at Chipotle – you know it costs extra, but it’s completely worth every penny.

The other factor that may turn some gamers off is the relative simplicity of Heroes of the Storm‘s design. Players do not need a copious amount of skill or an arcane knowledge of skill interactions or combinations to play the game. There are no items to purchase during the battles, and a hero’s talents are limited when a player first picks them. The player and their heroes gain levels through play, unlocking more talents from which to choose once you’re used to the basics. The learning curve on Heroes is much more gentle than in other similar games, and those players looking for a close alternative to the likes of League of Legends may find this something of a letdown.

For those like me, though, Heroes of the Storm has a ridiculous amount of appeal. Seeing old favorite characters in this new environment tickles my nostalgia centers. Hearing the in-game banter makes me smile. Unlocking new talents that spark my brain into planning tactics encourage me to work with my teammates. It is very difficult to do something “wrong” in Heroes of the Storm. That counts for a lot, if you want to have fun with a game without worrying over things like efficient play or individual achievement.

I heartily encourage Blizzard fans to give the game a try, now that it’s been released. The game is polished, the play is fun, the characters are nicely varied, and the maps will keep you coming back for more. The Nexus is calling you, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it a call worth heeding.

The Art of Thor: Ah, The Power of Cheese

Courtesy Blizzard
“Hmm… that Probe looks suspicious. I better question it. With my gun.”

“Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

This concept will be nothing new for StarCraft players. On a conceptual level, things of this nature have existed since gaming began. From the shark at the blackjack table to the RPG player grinding a particular area over & over again, gamers like to game and some especially like to game the system. Sometimes, this is referred to as cheating or exploiting. StarCraft has a particular term for it. They call it cheese.

Cheese is a strategy for opening a game that looks to take advantage of a timing or mechanics advantage you might have over your opponent. While it’s not the same as going all-in on a particular strategy, if your cheese fails you can end up at a severe disadvantage economically. Many cheeses also involve a measure of micro-management, pulling your focus away from establishing the foundation for longer play. If you invest in cheese up-front and don’t follow up with a solid mid-game, your clever strategy might actually become the reason you lose the game.

Let me give you an example from each race.

Protoss: Proxy Pylon

The basic infantry units of the Protoss – Zealots, Stalkers, etc – are produced at Gateways, which can be converted to Warp Gates. When they become Warp Gates, the buildings can teleport units into play anywhere the Protoss have built a Pylon. Pylons require minimal investment, can be built anywhere and, like all Protoss buildings, do not require a Probe to be present while completing construction.

The cheese in this comes when the Protoss player builds a Pylon far from his home, in or near the enemy base. On some maps, the geography allows the Pylon to sit out of the enemy’s sight while its power grid, the area which powers Protoss buildings & provides space for the aforementioned units to warp in, intrudes into the enemy base. A Protoss player can warp in units at his leisure or even build Plasma Cannons to destroy their opponent’s economy, wreck their buildings and generally be a nuiscance.

Terran: Planetary Fortress Rush

It may seem a bit silly, but a Terran player can use their initial base structure as an offensive unit. The Command Center has the option to be upgraded to either an Orbital Command or a Planetary Fortress. The latter upgrade beefs the building up with layers of armor and adds a pair of cannons on a turret on top. After upgrading to the Planetary Fortress, the building cannot lift off again as most Terran buildings do.

The thrust of this opening is for the Terran player to build a second Command Center as soon as possible, float it into the enemy base, drop it in place with a few SCVs for repairs and upgrade directly to the Planetary Fortress. After the enemy workers have been eliminated, the Terran player’s own workers can acquire the resources of the enemy base while the Fortress blasts anything that tries to take it down. It is meant to capitalize more on psychological impact than any practical issues like longer game strategy or unit counters.

Zerg: Zergling Rus

It’s a StarCraft tradition. The Zerg rush has been used so often and so effectively that the term has seeped into other games and aspects of culture. Zerglings are the least costly of the initial starting units of all three races, and the nature of Zerg unit production allows for many of the units to be produced at once. Take a bunch of these little guys, produced as quicly as possible, and point them in the general direction of whatever you want consumed.

The basic strategy is alive, well, and relatively unchanged from the original game. The Zerg player puts down a Spawning Pool with all due haste. The initial batch of Zerglings then speed their way to the enemy base. A half-dozen Zerglings can absolutely gut the economy of an unwary player in the very early game. It relies on quick scouting and constant unit production.

Beating Cheese

Getting around cheese is actually relatively simple. Maintain strong macro, scout your base and move aggressively against any encroachment. If you are constantly building units, even the most basic fighters, most early opening cheese won’t lost too long. Keep a unit, be it a builder or something more robust, peeking out from your base and coming back just to make sure the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas. And if you do see a builder or a couple units whistling innocently as they approach our base, stomp them as quickly as possible. That shoul take care of most cheese, but sometimes, you just won’t get your placement exactly right and those Zerglings will slip through, or you’ll scout your entire perimeter only to just miss the Pylon about to dispense unpleasantness on your buildings. Keep playing & practicing, and it’ll happen less often.

Fiction: The Haunting of Pridewater

Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard quietly announced the winners of their 2010 Fiction Contest mid-October. I wasn’t among them. So now, I can give you fine folks my entry, The Haunting of Pridewater. It wasn’t good enough for Blizzard, but maybe someone who passes this way will enjoy it.


You must awaken. Time is running out.

One of the sundered bulkheads on the battlecruiser’s command deck slid against the deck plates, causing a grating noise as it moved. The hand that pushed it aside flickered as if it struggled to remain in existence. The survivor pulled himself free of the wreckage, only to immediately collapse. A secondary explosion deep in the spacecraft’s drive section nearly drowned out his soft groan of pain. It was the only human sound being made throughout the ship.

Human.

“I heard you the first time. Shut up.”

He tapped the side of his helmet, trying to get some sort of response from his hostile encounter suit. After a few attempts, he yanked the goggles off and tossed them away. He had no idea how badly he was hurt, but as far as he could tell, he was the last living terran in the combat zone. Acrid smoke carried the stench of burning flesh and wiring through the battlecruiser’s wreckage. He shut off his personal cloak, trying to conserve his power. The suit would try to patch him up, but it was only a matter of time before the zerg were all over the crash site like freeloaders at a Mar Sara barbeque.

Indeed. As I said, time is…

“And I said shut up. Get out of my head, while you’re at it.”

My withdrawal would not help either of us. I am Melponia, advance scout of the protoss. I observed the approach of your task force and the defense mounted by the zerg. You did not stand a chance.

“Well, ain’t you just a big ol’ ray of sunshine.”

He rolled over onto his back and pushed himself up against the wall. He tried to get a better idea of his wounds, examining them in the light cast by the fires and guttering light fixtures of the command deck. His left leg lay at an unnatural angle with the rest of his body, a dead weight of seeping blood and pulverized bone. The suit was putting painkillers into his bloodstream, but being unable to use the leg would make escape difficult. He tasted blood in his mouth and felt nauseous. His insides felt like a bag of broken glass. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, tried to remember his training.

“I’m a ghost,” he said, “and I still have a job to do.”

You are in no condition to do battle.

“If I didn’t know better I’d think you were my mother haunting me from beyond the grave. Are all prote dames such nags?”

I don’t know. Are all human males stubborn, sarcastic and rude?

“Most of the ones I’ve met, yes.” The ghost sifted through the wreckage and found his C-10 rifle. The magazine had been smashed,and it only held a single canister in its chamber. It was an armor-piercing round. It would only deter one assailant. Two, if one stood directly behind the other and the one in front was smaller.

“What do you want, anyway? I’m assuming you didn’t come here just to chat with me.”

I did not. I am, as I said, an advance scout. We detected the warp rift that brought the zerg to this planet and observed the staggering rate at which their hive has grown. By the next rotation, they will overwhelm your colony.

“Fifty thousand people live on Pridewater. There’s no way we can evacuate all of them in time. They’ve got a few personal defense weapons, nothing to hold back a major zerg attack. It’ll be a massacre.”

They are not my concern. You are.

“Now, why am I such a concern to you?” The ghost struggled to stand, keeping his hand on a broken console to steady himself as he slung his rifle. “I ain’t prote, and I can’t be sure you are, either. This could be some zerg trick.”

The response was a harmonious burst of ancient music. Behind his eyes, he saw soaring spires, glowing pylons and sparkling cityscapes. Just as he was realizing just how awestruck he was, there was a flash, and it was all on fire, the music becoming a mournful requiem. The vision faded, and he touched his fingers to his eyes. The tears on his fingertips caught the light from the fires nearby.

Such things are part of my memory, and that of every protoss. Such things do not exist within the imagination of the zerg.

The ghost shook his head. The music stayed with him, faint background noise behind the crackling of fires and groans of fatigued metal.

The wreckage is unstable. You must make your way aft if you wish to survive.

“You still haven’t told me why you care so damn much.”

The last time one of your potential fell into the clutches of the zerg, the Queen of Blades was born. Another catastrophe of that magnitude I will not allow.

“Then nuke the site and be done with it!” The ghost pulled himself along the console towards the hatch leading aft. He had to push the hand of a corpse out of his way. The body of the technician fell to the deck with a wet thump, impaled on a shards of her viewscreen, open eyes staring at nothing. “What’s with the ‘distant guiding voice’ routine? I’d think you were a field commander if I didn’t know better, safe and secure up there with your overhead perspective while the real men do the dyin’.”

I have not yet ascended to such a rank. And Pridewater will indeed be purified when the main force arrives.

The ghost stopped. “Define ‘purified.’”

Half a dozen protoss carriers will use concentrated weapons fire from orbit to eliminate the zerg threat.

“Takin’ the terran colony out with it.”

A small price to pay for preventing the spread of the swarm.

“I came here to save these people, not have tea with a protes while their homes are reduced to slag, their fields turned to glass.”

You will die with them if you do not accept my aid.

“Give me one good reason why I don’t limp into the zerg hive just to spite you.”

Very well. Give me your name first.

“I’m Ghost #24815, attached to the Nobunaga task force out of Waystation Bravo.”

No. Not the designation given by your masters. What is your name?

The ghost blinked. He’d made it as far as the ventral corridor, which sloped away from him due to how the battlecruiser had come to rest on the rocky terrain. He kept his grip on the safety rail, struggling to remember the name his parents had chosen. Or his parents, for that matter.

You can’t, can you.

“Shut up. Gimme a second.”

Let me help you.

“Wait-”

Before he could say or even think another word, she was fully in his mind. She pulled his consciousness away from the brokenness and pain of his body. He was adrift on unseen eddies, floating above a sea of shadow. A lithe form appeared nearby, peering into the darkness.

She turned her eyes to him and the feeling that washed over him defied description. He’d seen holograms of protoss before, clad in their eldritch armor and piloting war machines with designs terran analysts called “ill-suited for the battlefield.” Here, before him, he appreciated their esoteric beauty for the first time. Melponia held out her hand to him.

Your name awaits. Take my hand and I will help you find it.

He obeyed. In the next split second, darkness and noise enveloped him. He felt Melponia’s grip on him, but his sense were otherwise overwhelmed by the chaos. Through the maelstrom, he heard Melponia singing.

He recognized some of the images. Voices in the storm became familiar. Some of the memories were recent recollections of conversations with Bravo’s commandant or the Nobunaga’s captain. In addition to the familiar faces and words, however, were those that chilled the ghost to the bone.

They weren’t frightening in and of themselves. In fact, the face of the young woman smiling at him as they sat in a field under the stars was so beautiful to him he wanted to cry. The frightening thing was that, despite being unable to place the faces and voices in proper order or match them with names right away, he felt he knew them.

Searing pain. A sense of nauseating vertigo. Being forced to let go of something precious. These sensations came next, along with the memory of a cold metal table and a needle in his arm. Waking the day after the procedure, his head had ached horribly despite being void of all but his training and his duty to the Dominion.

The Dominion had done this to him. They’d stripped him of who he’d been. The final memory was of standing in the barracks bathroom at the Academy on Ursa, the morning before they’d wiped his mind. He remembered emerging from the shower and looking into the mirror, telling himself he was doing his duty, doing the right thing. He did not, however, the slender alien standing directly behind him.

Your mind is strong, terran.

“Lawrence.”

He blinked, and he was back in the darkened corridor of the Nobunaga.

“My name is Lawrence Crockett.”

It is a pleasure to meet you, Lawrence Crockett. I owe you ‘one good reason’ for taking you away from Pridewater, if memory serves.

“You’ve got at least one, considering all the stuff the Dominion made me forget.”

Crockett pushed himself to his feet and continued his painful journey towards the aft section of the wreck. The suit had run out of painkillers to dispense while he’d been out.

Indeed. The fear of another Kerrigan emerging from your ranks prompted your betters to geld your mind. Their work was sloppy and ineffective.

“Sarah Kerrigan was corrupted by the zerg. It wasn’t her fault.”

Yet it was her mind the swarm wished to possess. Bodies they have in multitudes. It is logical to assume minds with similar training would also appeal to their goals.

Crockett shook his head. “Logical or not, it’s stupid to let ‘em do this to us. It’s my mind. It doesn’t belong to anybody else.”

I can help you repair the damage, Lawrence. Reclaim all you have lost and show you how to become so much more.

“My mother called my Lawrence. My friends call me Larry.”

Am I your friend, then?

“I ain’t settled on that yet. You helped me kick down the doors in my head, and I’m thankful for that. But I still don’t know for sure what your endgame is here.”

I do not have an endgame short of taking you away from this planet prior to purification… Larry.

“Next thing you’re gonna tell me is that I won the lottery on Mar Sara.”

That world has already been purified.

“Yeah, I heard the reports. That’s what makes it a joke.” He shook his head. “We’re gonna keep talkin’, I’m gonna have to learn you a thing or two about humor.”

I am afraid we may not have the time.

“Spoilsport.”

At last, Crockett had arrived at his destination. The armory was a darkened cavern, some lights flickering in the vast compartment where the Nobunaga’s ammunition and that of any passengers was stored. He didn’t know if the zerg had any interest in non-biological equipment aboard, but letting them get the claws on terran nukes was a chilling thought.

“How close are the zerg to the crash site?”

A mere handful of kilometers. By terran reckoning, you have ten minutes before they arrive.

“That’s plenty.”

Groping for handholds as much as he could, the rifle slung across his back heavier with every move he made, Crockett made his way through the spilled racks of anti-air missiles and loose capacitors for energy weapons to the locked cage where the warheads awaited him.

My sublight engines do indeed have enough thrust to bring me close enough to-

“That ain’t what’s on my mind right now, Mel.”

A single light remained on steadily in the cage. He took hold of the door and pulled. Somehow, the lock had survived the crash. The door wouldn’t budge. The yellow and black labels warning of the weapons’ radioactivity seemed to mock him from behind the cage.

Crockett stepped back, brought his rifle down from his shoulder and steadied himself against the broken rack behind him. He knew that once he pulled the trigger, he’d be defenseless save for the knife in his boot and the brain in his skull.

What are you doing, Larry? Melponia’s voice was calm, unassuming.

“I’m afraid, ma’am, that I’m gonna have to respectfully decline your offer.”

The rifle kicked like a mule when he fired. The recoil almost dislocated his shoulder and he dropped the weapon immediately. He slid to the deck and came close to passing out, but he felt Melponia’s presence, her song washing away the pain if just for a few moments.

Remain conscious. If you fall into darkness you may not emerge again.

“You just might be the sweetest protoss in the cosmos, carin’ as much as you do.”

I bet you say that to all the ‘prote’s.

He smiled in spite of the pain. “See? That was sarcasm. You’re learnin’.”

Larry, you owe those brain-butchers nothing.

Crockett blinked, regaining his senses. His shot had torn the door almost completely off of the cage, leaving one hinge intact and obliterating the lock. Reaching up with his good arm, he pulled the door open and crawled inside.

“Nope, I don’t. But those kids, here on Pridewater, ain’t the brain-butchers. And I’m not gonna leave ‘em to die just to satisfy a grudge. The pencil-pushin’ bastards on Ursa will get what’s comin’ to ‘em, I’m sure. But I have to deal with what’s in front of me, namely fifty thousand of my kind who’ll end up a zergling’s lunch, or vaporized by protoss lasers, if I hop on your spaceship with you for a romantic getaway.”

Melponia scoffed. You presume much, if you think I find you attractive, human.

“Feeling’s mutual, sweetheart.” Looking at the warheads, a plan began to form in his mind. “Look, squishy lovely feelings or no, I do need your help. I need to know if this is going to work.”

It will fail unless I assist you. You cannot brute force your way through those defenses.

“Well, then.” Crockett drew the knife from his boot and began prying off one of the warhead’s access plates. “Guess I’m gonna need your delicate, feminine touch, then.”

It was five minutes later when the sound of rending metal washed through the battlecruiser. A dark, misshapen creature slid into the wreckage, mandibles clicking softly as it scented out its prey. The hydralisk slithered through the twisted hallways of the wreckage. The cerebrate compelled it to find the psychic signature glowing in the middle of the ruined battlecruiser like a newborn star. Moving over corpses and fallen bulkheads, the zerg warrior slid into the arsenal. Within the cage at the aft end of the room, Lawrence Crockett sat near some conical devices marked in yellow and black, not moving.

The hydralisk hissed triumphantly. It moved towards the inert form of Crockett. The terran didn’t respond to its approach. The cerebrate, exhibiting a sudden surge of urgency, ordered the hydralisk to prod the dark-clad human with one of its arms. The hydralisk moved to obey.

Now!

Crockett sprang to life, grabbing the extended zerg arm with his bad hand while his other stabbed the hydralisk in the chest with his knife.

The hydralisk screamed, Crockett too close to stab with its scythes. It tried to launch a volley of spines, but something was keeping the mental command from reaching the muscles. There was a presence in its brain, something other than the cerebrate. The hydralisk glared down at Larry, who was gritting its white teeth. A blood-covered circuit board lay nearby. Several wires connected the board to one of the nukes, while others disappeared into Crockett’s helmet.

I have it distracted, Larry. The cerebrate is in direct contact. Address it directly.

“I know you can hear me.”

The cerebrate recoiled in shock.

“Yeah. You. The cerebrate of Pridewater. I feel you here. I know you’re looking through this thing’s eyeballs at me. Well, I hope you enjoy the show. It’ll be the very last thing you see.”

Panicking, the cerebrate screamed at the hydralisk to slay the human. It struggled to obey, trying to back away from Crockett. But the human maintained a grip on his knife, staying close to the hydralisk.

It is trying to cut the hydralisk off, Larry. I will maintain the link as long as I can, but zerg minds are slippery…

“I’m wired into this nuke stockpile behind me. You know what that means? It means if my brainwaves stop, this whole place goes up in a white-hot flash. I figure I’m close enough to your hive that it’ll fry a good few of your little zerg friends. But then I thought, that ain’t near good enough.”

Crockett struggled to stand, unsteady on his shattered legs. He continued to stare into the hydralisk’s eyes, close enough for the hydralisk to smell the blood on he breath. The hydralisk knew its victim wasn’t going to live long even if it didn’t slay him as the cerebrate was now begging it to do.

“I figure, you’re hooked into the brain of every zerg on this planet. If I get hold of your mind, get nice and cozy with you, I’ll take your mind with mine when I die. Not only will I blast your hive to kingdom come, every single zerg on Pridewater will suffer such a psychic shock it’ll either drop dead on the spot or be left a drooling, quivering mess that any farmer’s son can finish off with an antique rifle. All I gotta do is find my way through this hydralisk’s excuse for a mind and ride its connection right to your consciousness. Are you scared yet? Do you zerg bastards even get scared?”

Larry, there is no more time. It will…

“I know it, woman. Get out of our heads while you can. I’m in too deep for it to stop me now!”

Larry…

“Melponia! Go!”

The hydralisk was overwhelmed with the orders, the urge, the need to kill the human. It roared, yanking itself back off of the knife and raising one of its scythes. Crockett, in spite of the fearsome sight that had caused battle-hardened marines to soil their power armor, grinned, his eyes lit with an intense mental fire.

“Ah-HA! Here you are, you invertebrate stinking alien son of a…!”

The hydralisk brought its scythe down into Crockett’s skull. The bone weapon sank through muscle and brain as the cerebrate suddenly changed its mind. Its last command had been for the hydralisk to stop. It’d been a cry of desperation, an unexpected and frightening turn of events. But now there was only silence.

The silence was filled with white light for a split-second, and then there was nothing.

Some time later, the task force appeared in the void on the outskirts of Pridewater’s star system. The half-dozen protoss carriers were loaded for bear, ready to cleanse the planet of its infestation, primed for purification.

Scout Melponia. Task Force Command awaits your report.

Melponia respected the fact that her commanders did not probe her thoughts. She was still processing all that had occured, the residual scans of Pridewater and the odd sensation her mind experienced when it turned to that planet.

“The planet is free of infestation, Command. Long-range radiological scans detected a nuclear detonation consistent with the stockpile of a terran battlecruiser. It is logical to assume that a survivor of the Dominion task force set off the stockpile to protect the colony. No zerg life signs remain on the planet. Preliminary data suggests some form of attack on the psychic level, possibly a sympathetic echo from so many dying at once in nuclear fire.”

This is an astonishing turn of events. How did this come to pass?

“The data suggests…”

We are no longer interested in the data. What do you think happened down there?

Melponia turned to look out the canopy of her scout vessel towards Pridewater. The sense was definitely still there, the impression left by a mind she had touched. It lingered there, quietly contemplative, a silent guardian.

“A ghost inhabits the planet of Pridewater.”

We do not understand.

“Pridewater is haunted, Command.” Her gaze didn’t break from the planet. “Haunted.”

I Must Construct Additional Pylons!

Courtesy Blizzard

I have an entry created for Blizzard’s writing contest, and while I think it’s okay, I want to be doubly sure it’s highly polished and as Blizzardy as possible. But it’s not about what I think, is it? It’s going to be read by other people.

So I need other people willing to read it. Specifically, I’m looking for at least two.

I need someone familiar with StarCraft. The game has some particulars in terms of lore, background, themes and mood. I want to make sure I’m hitting all of the major touchpoints and haven’t completely botched my timelines.

I also need someone familiar with writing. The words I’ve chosen are in a particular order, but I don’t know if they’re in the best order. I’ve gotten great feedback on Citizen in the Wilds thanks to people looking at the order of my words, and I’d love this little short work to get the same treatment.

Leave me a comment if you’re interested. I can send you an invite to the Google document via the email address you’ll input to post the comment. Once I’m a bit more confident in this, I’ll send it off to Blizzard and start making burnt offerings to any deity within celestial earshot.

I really want this to go well. Like, a lot.

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